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San Diego
Saturday, May 25, 2024

Mercedes Is Already Looking Ahead to ’07 With New S550

Mercedes-Benz has leaped ahead to 2007 with the launch of its flagship, the S-Class sedan. Given the car’s gee-whiz technology, it’s no wonder the company is moving it into the future. The first in line is the S550 with a potent V-8 engine.

The big, new Benz is a terrific car, particularly if you’re the person who just has to have the latest technology. The new S-Class has no peer when it comes to on-board electronics.

But first a personal note: While I’ve owned German cars from all of the usual suspects, the S550 is the first Mercedes-Benz that I have actually lusted after. I wondered if it would fit in our garage, and then I got to thinking about the list price of $105,000.

I could put a serious dent in our retirement account and try to convince my wife that instead of ultimately retiring in California, we could buy a nice three-bedroom abode in the Midwest , with a farm attached. Hey, the future is soybeans.

Yes, the new S550 demands serious money. It starts with a basic MSRP of $85,400. But to really experience the incredible technology offered, you also must dive deeply into an almost bottomless pool of options.

End-to-end, the new S-Class is slightly larger than its predecessor and offers more interior room. In fact, Mercedes claims that the new model is the largest in class.

The new S-Class is an evolutionary step from the outgoing model, which featured an exceptionally sleek design. To set off the new design, Mercedes has adopted a sculpted, aggressive look, including a new hood with a deeply chiseled V-shape that rides above the line of the front fenders.

The profile reveals a trunk lid that also rises above the rear fender line and wheel arches that are flared out to suggest a buffed, muscular quality. The new profile is more aggressive; whether it is more attractive than its very pretty ancestor is a matter of taste.

On the other hand, an athletic appearance may better reflect the character of the new S-Class. At the heart of the matter is a new 5.5-liter V-8 that delivers 382 horsepower and offers zero-to-60 mph acceleration in just over 5 seconds without a turbo or supercharger. The S550’s performance is so smooth that it belies the raw muscle available.

The engine racks up its mighty authority with four-valve-per-cylinder technology and variable valve timing. The engine feeds power to a seven-speed automatic , a refined unit that adapts its operation to match the driver’s style.

But if 382 galloping ponies do not quite charge your battery, just wait for the S65 model featuring a twin-turbo V-12 with a promised 604 horsepower. Mercedes is going to win the power war in the premium luxury class, no matter what it takes.

While I have some reservations about the exterior design of the new S-Class, the interior is the last word in elegance, although the central COMAND control system, while improved, still requires a lot of driver involvement to learn and master. To really appreciate the new dashboard, awash in the finest hardwood veneer, it must be seen at night. Running the width of the dash and extending into the door panels is a narrow incision that emits a band of indirect light, which delivers a few watts of illumination for an almost ethereal glow.

Our test vehicle offered some intriguing options. The multifunction seats will warm and cool your body , nothing new here. And you can also select another mode that offers a message. But what really impressed was a driver’s seat feature based on active technology that inflated the seat back bolsters in direct response to the movement of the steering wheel. In other words, upon a left turn, the right side seat bolster suddenly expanded, countering the centrifugal force of the turn and keeping the driver snugly in place.

Another technology making its debut is infrared night vision. This system floods the road ahead with invisible infrared light from two projectors mounted in the headlight assemblies with a range of about 500 feet. An infrared camera located in the windshield receives the images and displays them in a high-resolution display in the central instrument cluster. It’s just like watching the traffic ahead on a black-and-white television. In actuality, it’s hard to see the advantages of this system in an urban environment. But in rural areas, the system should warn the driver of animals or other obstacles before they become a hazard.

Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at


Mercedes-Benz S550

Price as tested: $105,045.


Type: 5.5-liter V-8.

Horsepower: 382 @ 6,000 rpm.

Torque: 391 foot-pounds @ 2,800 rpm.

Fuel economy, automatic transmission:

City: 16 mpg.

Highway: 24 mpg.

Curb weight: 4,688 pounds.


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